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“When the southeast winds prevail, the route of a sailing vessel bound from the gulf to Jamaica, is not through the Straits of Yucatan; it is through the Florida Pass by Key West, and then back on the south side of Cuba. Now a maritime enemy seizing upon Key West and the Tortugas, could land a few heavy guns from his ship and make it difficult for us to dislodge him. Here, railroads and the telegraph do not reach; and as long as he should hold that position, so long would he control the commercial mouth of the great Mississippi valley.
“In that position he would shut up in the gulf whatever force inferior to his own we might have there. He would prevent reinforcements sent to relieve it from Boston, New York, and Norfolk, from entering the gulf. Indeed, in a war with England, the Tortugas and Key West being in her possession, it might be more advisable, instead of sending from our Atlantic dock yards a fleet to the gulf, to send it over to the British islands, and sound the Irish people as to throwing off allegiance.
“In the next maritime war, (and in such a war we have nothing to fear from any quarter except one, it is not upon the Atlantic, properly speaking, that the great sea-fight is to take place; it is in the Gulf of Mexico, or near the English shores.
“Jamaica is an important naval station; it commands one entrance to the gulf. There Great Britain can assemble her fleet, and within three days have it off the Balize, in position to strike a terrible blow at the commerce of that valley; shutting up the Florida Pass, she would have complete control of the gulf. Norfolk and New York are inconveniently situated to defend it. Some years ago a man-of-war was sent with despatches from Norfolk to Pensacola; she was fifty-odd days in making the passage.
“The means of defence for the gulf should be within the valley that belongs to it. The resources of this valley are ample, its means most abundant, and its people are its best and most appropriate defenders. Pensacola should therefore be built up as a naval station, and the depot at Memphis fostered with care and solicitude. Instead of draining the treasury for forts, under the system of 1816, these two places should be put in condition for building, equipping, and fitting, upon a scale sufficient to secure to us, in war, the naval supremacy at least in the gulf.
“In a war with England, and with those two places as the centres of operations, it probably would be found desirable to move upon Jamaica and other British islands in that quarter. New York and the Atlantic dock-yards would probably be the centre of other operations; and if Jamaica fall in such a war, it must fall under the guns and before the gallantry of the West; the East will have need and occupation for all its forces in other quarters.
"Memphis is fast rising in importance as a place of construction. Private enterprise has already commenced to establish building-yards there, and in that teeming region there is no lack of naval and maritime resources. The ropewalk there is of no consequence. We want docks, storehouses, machine-shops, and foundries, for casting, forging, making, and building anchors and cables, ships and engines ; and for preparing and keeping in store, out of the excellent materials to be found in that valley, all the arms and munitions of war which would be required for the defence of the gulf, the capture of Jamaica or any other British possessions, if Britain be the enemy.
"I have, on former occasions, presented my views at large with regard to the importance of Memphis as a naval depot. These views are before the public, and therefore I deem it unnecessary to repeat them here. We have turned the corner, and are now going ahead in the peaceful race for the commercial supremacy of the seas; the next trial is to be for maritime supremacy of another sort. It is hoped that the day for that contest is far distant. But every people are liable to war; and it is a fact which we cannot blink, that in providing for the contingency, our statesmen and warriors must, for many years to come, have an eye to the forces which Great Britain, rather than any other power, can bring against us. But let that contest come when it may, it is most likely to be decided in the Gulf of Mexico and its twin basin, the Caribean sea ; they are the receptacles of all that the two grandest systems of river basins in the world will have to pour into the lap of commerce. The valley of the Mississippi on one side, and the valley of the Amazon on the other, will in time make these two arms of the sea the commercial centre of the world.
“The mouth of the Amazon, the mouth of the Oronoco, and the mouth of the Magdalena, are, commercially speaking, almost as much in the Florida Pass as is the mouth of the Mississippi river. Such is the course of the currents, and such the direction of the winds, in that part of the world, that a vessel sailing from the mouth of any one of these rivers for Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, or for India, or for the markets of the Pacific around Cape Horn, or for Africa, or for Europe, has first to steer to the northward and westward, until she reaches the parallel of 25° or 30° north. This brings her off our own shores; and it is impossible for her to pursue any other route, so long as the northeast trade-winds prevail, or the great equatorial current which feeds the gulf-stream continues to flow across the Atlantic. No vessel trading under canvass from the mouth of these rivers to the markets of South America, Europe, Asia, or Africa, can go any other way. They must pass by our doors.
Therefore, in planning a system of national defences, who can over-estimate the importance of the Gulf of Mexico as a nucleus of naval means, the centre of naval operations? That centre is at Key West and the Tortugas; hence the great need of strong works there.
"Interests of the most delicate, valuable, and, to an enemy, of the most attractive kind, are even now daily springing up and expanding themselves out upon the waters and about the borders of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribean sea-interests which, if they should be injured or put in needless jeopardy, will create a greater sensation throughout this country than would the landing of a hundred thousand men at arms upon our shores. These interests are maritime—they are American ; their defences and protection are naval; they must be watched and guarded from the Mississippi valley. Memphis and Pen
sacola by nature are, by rights ought to be, and by legislation should be, the centres of operations in the case.
" Panama, Nicaragua, and Tehuantepec, have, or are about to impose new obligations upon us. We must look to them, and in providing for the common defence take them into consideration. They are links in the chain which binds the most remote corners of the republic together. They are the gateways between distant parts of the Union, and they must therefore be cared for in peace, guarded and protected in war.
"The Amazonian basin, embracing an area more than twice the extent of our great Mississippi valley, fills too large a space in the world to escape attention from us, when we are in the very act of laying the foundations for a permanent system of national defence. With all the climates of India, with unheard of capacities of production, and the most boundless sources of wealth in the field, the forest, and the mine, that valley, so soon as it shall begin to feel the axe and the plough, will pour into our lap a commerce, the value of which is as limitless as are its own vast resources. Nature has placed us in the position to command that commerce. The great business of fetching and carrying there must be ours. For coming and for going the winds are fair for us; and we are the only nation for whose shipping they are so fair.
“ That arm of the ocean which severs the continent nearly in twain, to make between the Father of Waters,' at the north, and the 'King of Rivers,' at the south, a receptacle for their commerce, is receiving from the Mississippi valley alone an amount of produce that astonishes the world. Yet the Mississippi valley is not half peopled up. What, therefore, will this oceanic basin, this commercial receptacle for the surplus produce of the two grandest systems of river basins on the face of the earth, be, when the great Amazonian valley, of double area, with its everlasting summer, and its endless round of harvests, comes to be subdued and brought into cultivation?
What the Gulf of Mexico is now, is as nothing to what it is to be. It abounds with commercial elements that cannot be comprehended for their magnitude; and in proportion as it becomes the seat of maritime wealth and greatness, so, too, must it become the centre of naval strength and power. As Columbus lay sick, it was upon the waters of this sea-basin that the angel visited him in a dream, and told him that God had made his name great, and sent him to ‘unbar the gates of ocean.' The keys to these gates are at Key West and the Tortugas, Memphis, and Pensacola. Nature has placed them among the wonderful resources of the great valley; and to stand as gatekeeper before them is the mission of those naval forces that naturally centre in the gulf."
Other important considerations irresistibly connect themselves with this subject. If it be indispensable to a wise system of public defence to connect the navy with the illimitable material resources of the great valley of the Mississippi, it is equally imperative to bring it into contact with the vast population of that teeming region, which is soon destined to be the seat of empire in our country. While the vessels engaged in our European commerce may be expected to furnish men
to fill our ships of war for the defence of the Atlantic coast–our whalers, those for the defence of California and Oregon—where else can we look for men to defend the Gulf of Mexico, but to the brave and hardy watermen who swarm the western rivers?
Six years ago, in one of those memorials which the legislature of Tennessee has repeatedly adopted, evincing its deep interest in this subject, this important aspect of the question was presented in the following language:
“Similar public establishments on the banks of the Mississippi and its great tributaries will carry with it similar benefits and facilities to a great and growing community, proverbial for its patriotism, but hitherto almost wholly unaccustomed to any participation in the public disbursements. They would stimulate its enterprise by opening new and profitable markets to the labor and the productive energies of that community. They would in no small degree familiarize the public eye with the character and the application of the destructive engines of war, and thereby acquaint a remote but devoted people with the power and defensive force of the government.
“ The hardy waterman of the Mississippi, already more than half a sailor, trained thus in frequent intercourse with the war-ship, the child of his own boasted valley, would imbibe feelings which no recited lesson could inspire; and, with the first invitation of his couutry, he would eagerly walk her decks and peril his life in defence of her colors. This brave and patient class of our population already numbers some twenty thousand. They flourish in a growing and instructive school, and will, in all time to come, if properly nurtured, constitute a standing army of peaceful and unexpensive citizens, inured to toil and discipline, and ready, at a moment's warning, to man our navy; or, if need be, fill up and recruit our field battalions."
The committee are informed, upon the best authority, that it is now a matter of great difficulty, in the cities of our southern seaboard, to procure the sailors necessary for manning our commercial vessels. As it is to the commercial marine we must look for the means of manning an effective navy in time of war, and as the isolated and independent character of the Gulf of Mexico must be apparent from the facts already presented, we cannot entirely rely upon the Atlantic and Pacific seas for the men necessary to maintain our supremacy in that “ mare clausum.” The Mississippi valley offers a ready and sure resource—the only sure resource—for such an emergency; but it is necessary to provide the proper means for placing these immense resources of materials and men within our reach when the occasion shall require them. It is believed that no more economical or efficient means for this purpose can be adopted, than the completion and active operations of a great naval establishment, in the centre of the Mississippi valley.
Recent improvements in artillery render it almost certain, that the armaments of all our public vessels will be wholly inefficient and unreliable in a future naval contest. At all events, a very great supply of guns of larger calibre will be indispensable to be added to the present armament, if this should not prove to be entirely obsolete. Where should the guns for the Gulf of Mexico be cast, if not in the grand valley of which it is the outlet? Where should the shot and shells be manufactured? And what better, point for these purposes can be found than the site of the present naval establishment at Memphis?
In the report of the officers already referred to, a doubt is expressed as to the possibility of launching a large ship at Memphis. The committee can scarcely believe that there is any good ground for such & doubt. It is stated, throughout the report, that the foundations of some of the buildings are imperfectly prepared; but it is not stated that good foundations cannot be made. On the contrary, they present a plan for this purpose, which they believe will be sufficient. The committee will not undertake to determine the practicability of launching ships at Memphis, inasmuch as the commissioners aforesaid, in their report, have expressed a serious doubt on the subject. But such a conclusion would be so much against the decided convictions of the committee, and the judgment of practical men living in that section of the country, that it ought by no means to be acquiesced in, without a more thorough and accurate investigation of the facts upon which it is sought to be maintained. A practical test could be very easily applied; any number of responsible citizens could be found to contract, with good security, for building and launching at the Memphis navy yard a ship of any prescribed tonnage, notwithstanding the opinion of these learned commissioners that such a thing is of doubtful practicability.
The original design of this important establishment, upon which so large a sum of money has already been expended, and for the completion of which the State of Tennessee claims the faith of the government to have been pledged, ought not to be changed or abandoned upon the doubtful conjectures of three individuals, who prove themselves to be but little acquainted with the true capabilities of the position. The committee are informed that the present engineer in charge of the work, and Captain Nicholson, of the navy, now in command of the yard, are well satisfied that there can be no difficulty in establishing permanent foundations for building and launching ships. The opinions of these gentlemen are entitled to equal weight with the gentlemen to whose report reference has already been made.
For the reasons mentioned, therefore, the committee recommend the completion of the Memphis navy yard upon its original plan, and at the proper time they propose to ask the appropriations necessary for this purpose.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES—January 4, 1855.
To the House of Representatives :
In response to the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 11th ultimo, requesting the President "to communicate to this House any proposition which may have been made to the government by the city authorities of Memphis, relative to the navy yard property recently ceded to that city, together with his views and those of the Navy